Tripping on nitrous oxide, 19th-century psychologist William James glimpsed the Secret Of The Universe ("Overall there is a smell of fried onions"); 80 years later Jiri Srnec, under the same gas after a trip to the dentist (so the official story goes), had the vision that led him to found the world-famous Black Light Theatre of Prague. Using ultraviolet light to give a luminescence to props and costumes, and to render invisible a number of manipulators clad from head to toe in black velvet, the company invest objects with movement and vitality of their own: the "Drink Me" bottle dances up to Alice, carrots cavort before her, the White Rabbit's enormous watch becomes a portal through which objects (and people) appear and vanish.
It's not a show for serious Carrollians (set pieces are interpolated because they look nice and surreal rather than owing anything to the narrative)... in fact, it's not a show for any kind of seriousness. As Alice encounters all the requisite, cartoon-like characters – Mad Hatter, Caterpillar, Humpty Dumpty – and more, grows to enormous gangling proportions and (marvellously) cries herself an ocean (each of the company, switching between various characters and black, averages 16 costume changes during the show), it's nigh impossible to maintain a "grown-up" level of earnest critical detachment, and daft to try. Bewitching.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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